>> Gus­cott: Cokanasiga can be a true great

The Rugby Paper - - Front Page - JEREMYGUSCOTT

JOE Cokanasiga could be the next big thing in English rugby – as big as Jonny Wilkin­son and Martin John­son, or in to­day’s terms Owen Far­rell or Maro Itoje. He has that abil­ity to make an im­pact ev­ery time he catches the ball.

Cokanasiga has the whole rugby world in front of him, and it is about how well he deals with the men­tal de­mands of be­com­ing a star in Rugby Union that will dic­tate whether he makes the most of the op­por­tu­nity.

With his sec­ond touch on his de­but against Ja­pan he took a pass from El­liot Daly and set off down the left wing be­fore link­ing with Jamie Ge­orge, who then sent Danny Care in for the first try. A new player com­ing in with Cokanasiga’s heft could eas­ily have gone for glory and tried to score him­self, but he chose the right op­tion with a sim­ple pass to some­body in a bet­ter po­si­tion.

For his own try later on he got him­self in sup­port in the right po­si­tion, and had the power and pace to ride the tackle and get over the line.

Mov­ing on, in the game against Aus­tralia, there are very few wings – let alone one just start­ing out – who would have scored the try Cokanasiga did. Dane Haylett-Petty nearly knocked him­self out try­ing to tackle him, be­fore the big Bath wing took off be­tween Sefa Naivalu and Michael Hooper to score.

Cokanasiga makes ground pretty much ev­ery time he gets the ball, but there are al­ways lessons to be learned in this game, and he learned an im­por­tant one when he was nailed and dumped back­wards when he was given a hos­pi­tal pass with three Wal­laby tack­lers lined-up op­po­site him.

When it comes to tack­ling very few wings have a mas­sive rep­u­ta­tion for their de­fence. This is be­cause, like the No.9 in foot­ball, wings in Rugby Union are the fin­ish­ers.

The bal­ance be­tween what a player can do in at­tack, and how costly they can be in de­fence is a fac­tor that all coaches have to con­tend with.

For in­stance, Billy Vu­nipola is renowned for big car­ries much more than the big hits made by play­ers like Sam Un­der­hill and Courtney Lawes. A No.8 like Billy has to work hard to make sure that his de­fen­sive game is not left be­hind by his at­tack­ing strength.

With Cokanasiga it is harder be­cause de­fen­sively he is in a more ex­posed po­si­tion than a No.8. The fur­ther out you are on the flanks the more dif­fi­cult it is to know when to stay out and when to come in. Let’s not for­get that Joe is very much a rookie, and he will rely on his coaches and the out­side-cen­tres he plays with to fast-track his read­ing of the game.

In the 44th minute of the match against Ja­pan he timed a tackle to per­fec­tion when he came in to nail one of the Ja­panese re­place­ments. How­ever, in the first half when he came in to tackle his op­po­site winger, Ak­i­hito Ya­mada, he did not wipe him out – and it al­lowed him to make the off­load that Ja­pan cap­tain Michael Leitch scored from.

So, even though he bumped off Haylett-Petty suc­cess­fully, Cokanasiga learned that he has to make his tack­les count enough to ei­ther stop the off-load, or to slow it down. He was not alone be­cause three other Eng­land de­fend­ers failed to stop the Ja­pan cap­tain.

In the 37th minute Joe also missed an­other tackle down the left flank that led to Leitch run­ning on and Ja­pan nearly scored again in the first-half. The les­son there was that he has to get his tech­nique and po­si­tion right if he is go­ing to suc­ceed in sack­ing the player run­ning at him.

When the at­tack comes his way it is all about be­ing able to an­tic­i­pate where the ball will come, and how, so that he is in a po­si­tion to cover it. The main chal­lenge for any big winger in de­fence is to turn and re­cover when kicks are put in be­hind you – and be­cause on the whole they do not turn quickly that is why an­tic­i­pa­tion is so im­por­tant.

Against Aus­tralia he also did what Dick Best used to call a “Car­ruthers” – a less than ro­bust chal­lenge – where he al­lowed him­self to be tack­led into touch in­stead of an­gling in-field ear­lier.

These are all con­struc­tive crit­i­cisms based on de­tail be­cause Cokanasiga’s over­all per­for­mance was one of huge promise. Eng­land greats like Wilkin­son and John­son were able to slot into in­ter­na­tional rugby in­stantly be­cause they were al­ready very ac­com­plished, and with the right men­tal ap­pli­ca­tion Cokanasiga could be that good too.

It might not all be plain sail­ing be­cause when you are a big man who is that quick there are a lot of stresses on joints, fu­ture in­juries may be a fac­tor but let’s hope not. It was in­ter­est­ing see­ing him op­po­site Is­rael Fo­lau, who is slightly taller but has a highly fluid run­ning ac­tion.

Fo­lau is very well-bal­anced and it al­lows him to make easy changes of di­rec­tion, whereas Cokanasiga ap­pears to be more about raw power. He also has in­cred­i­ble dex­ter­ity and agility, which he showed ear­lier this sea­son with the try he scored for Bath against Har­lequins. So far, we’ve seen only glimpses of his po­ten­tial.

The way he took the high ball and burst down­field to the Aus­tralian line was one of those glimpses – even though he failed to see that he had Henry Slade free out­side him. How­ever, the way he caught a high ball and then left Wal­laby de­fend­ers stand­ing means that you kick to him at your peril.

Fo­lau was the mas­ter of scor­ing from the kick-pass when he was in Aussie Rugby League. If I’m a winger of Cokanasiga’s size it is a skill that I would want in my locker – and if he ac­quires it he will be al­most im­pos­si­ble to de­fend against.

I’m so im­pressed by what we’ve seen of Joe this au­tumn. He car­ried nine times against Ja­pan and seven against Aus­tralia, and you want him with the ball in his hands be­cause most times he will do dam­age.

Cokanasiga can have the ef­fect he had on Haylett-Petty against any­one who doesn’t get their tech­nique right when they at­tempt to tackle him, and if he adds han­dling and off­loads to his dex­ter­ity then his threat will be about more than power. He has bal­ance and agility, and is a bit like a cross be­tween Ge­orge North, who is a pis­ton-power run­ner, and a flow­ing run­ner like Fo­lau – with North’s power and Fo­lau’s dex­ter­ity.

Aus­tralia are usu­ally tac­ti­cal and strate­gic, and I thought they would try to iso­late Cokanasiga, and then ex­pose him. In the 2015 World Cup the Wal­la­bies pulled the English de­fence where they wanted them, and I feared that they would have done enough home­work on the rookie to try and put him in no-man’s land.

It didn’t hap­pen be­cause Eng­land didn’t al­low Aus­tralia to get go­ing, and I’m so pleased be­cause it gives Joe enough time to work on his de­fence be­fore the Six Na­tions.

The dy­namic in the English team with Cokanasiga, Manu Tuilagi and Ben Te’o is dif­fer­ent. It gives Eng­land a power and phys­i­cal­ity in the back­line that they have not had since Will Green­wood, Mike Tin­dall and Ben Co­hen helped them win the 2003 World Cup.

Cokanasiga has his work-ons in terms of im­prov­ing his de­fence, and his kick-pass re­ceiv­ing in at­tack, but over­all he has to be a coach’s dream. He has all the at­tributes, and it is up to the coaches he works with to de­velop them to the full so that he be­comes one of the greats.

Cokanasiga can cre­ate havoc. You know he’s com­ing, but you’ve still got to stop him – and if there are two de­fend­ers and the Eng­land winger is five yards from the try line then all you can do is wish them luck. Be­cause they are go­ing to need it.

“Cokanasiga has the pis­ton-power of Ge­orge North with Is­rael Fo­lau’s dex­ter­ity”

PIC­TURE: Getty Im­ages

Wreak­ing havoc: Joe Cokanasiga on the charge against Aus­tralia

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.